Fast fashion must be phased out within a decade, says Zalando CEO

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The global clothing industry must abandon the business model of “fast fashion” within ten years, according to the director of Zalando, Europe’s largest online fashion retailer.

Robert Gentz, co-managing director, told the Financial Times that the retailer, which has a market value of 21 billion euros and had sales of around 8 billion euros last year, aims to use its size and power to push the sector towards environmentally friendly products.

” The fashion industry [ . . .] is part of a global sustainability issue, ”said Gentz, pointing out that 40% of all clothing in Western wardrobes is never worn.

Fast fashion, the mass production of low-cost, low-quality clothing – often in poor working conditions in low-income countries – has transformed the global fashion industry over the past two decades.

Global clothing production has more than doubled since the turn of the century and is responsible for more carbon emissions than aviation and shipping combined, according to Greenpeace.

Gentz, 38, said the Germany-based group wants to push the fashion industry towards more sustainable products that consumers can repair, reuse and resell. “As a platform, we are more able to shape [the industry] only one brand, ”he said.

Zalando, co-founded by Gentz ​​with friends in 2008, has grown rapidly and has been riding the wave of fast fashion. Revenue is expected to reach 10.3 billion euros this year, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence, up 29% year-on-year and nearly 60% more than in 2019.

Since 2019, the company has focused its Zign private label on sustainable fashion. It is also working to eliminate single-use plastic – widely used in packaging – from its supply chain and aims to influence other players in the industry to follow suit. In Berlin, the company is experimenting with a “care & repair” service and is expanding its used ranges. In September, Zalando announced that it had acquired a stake in Finnish recycling company Infinited Fiber, which produces textile fibers from used cotton.

So far, 16% of Zalando’s revenue is generated by products the company classifies as “sustainable” and says it wants to increase that share to 25% by 2023.

Skeptics, however, accused the company of greenwashing. “Ultimately, Zalando is profiting from the current overconsumption of fast fashion in society,” sustainable fashion website Ashift wrote this summer in a critical review of the group’s efforts.

Gentz ​​rejects such a view. “It would be sad if that was really the case, and it’s not true,” he said. He acknowledged that Zalando “does not make money” on his green initiatives, but expressed confidence that this will change over time and that “there will ultimately be no alternative” to a fashion industry. more sustainable.

He denied that Zalando’s efforts to combat fast fashion could hamper the company’s growth ambitions. “Why should he? He asked, adding that the retailer has steadily gained market share in recent years.

Since 2014, sales of the website present in more than 20 European countries have increased by an average of 26%. Over the next four years, Zalando aims to triple its turnover to more than 30 billion euros.

Gentz ​​said size shouldn’t be an end in itself for Zalando: “When I look back 20 years from now, I don’t want to just look at a big company, but a big company that has used its size to shape things. more judiciously.


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